The Green Rush
by: Tristan Risk "Little Miss Risk"
Vancouver enjoys a certain amount of notoriety. Given that we are one of the youngest cities in Canada, and the last to succumb to colonization from Europe we are well aware that we are a unique coastal gem. We like to pride ourselves on maybe being a little younger, and a little hipper than our more stuffy Eastern counterparts over the Rockies. However, given that we are also a water locked city, space is something of a premium, and we've a penchant for tearing down older heritage buildings and replacing them with concrete and glass. This, too, poses a problem as foreign homeownership has driven up the already high cost of living in the city. it makes being an artist in this city hard. Hard, but no impossible. With many people dealing with crippling student debts, home ownership is a laughable thought. However, my generation is a resourceful one, and while we'd likely prefer not to be living in shared spaces, we make do with roommates, we eschew cars for bicycles, transit and rideshare programs. But with real estate at a premium, spaces to create have become a hot commodity along with housing, and while most of us hold down at least two to three jobs, people often ask me, how it's possible for young artists to live in a city renowned for it's unaffordability?
Prior to the World Expo in 1986, it wasn't difficult for women. With Vancouver having dozens of strip clubs, young women were able to choose whether to make rent or pay college tuition while they worked in the clubs. Given the proliferation of peeler parlors in town, one could work as often or as infrequently as she felt, and was able to pay bills and have a livable wage, or save for her higher education and both were completely within reason. However, with the advent of the 1986 Expo, the city cracked down on the clubs, well aware that we were being seen on a world stage. The rest of the world, a good chunk being China, saw the real estate options in Vancouver and begun to buy up land at great length, The clubs because to close up shop and now only a handful remain within city limits. Among these are The Penthouse, which has been a main stay since the 1940s and is practically a heritage site in downtown Vancouver, Brandi's where Ben Affleck got into trouble philandering with a dancer (who later went on to open one of the best pole dance studios in the city, and has since franchised a number since) and the No.5 Orange, which has been a mainstay and is not without it's own charms, if a little on the lowbrow side. Recently, another has been added to the roster, The Granville Strip, but it is still a far cry from the heyday, and most dancers are forced to travel a wider field within the province and beyond to make reasonable income, far from the comforts of their own hearth. Also, the competition is fierce, given that there are so few clubs in town, if there is anything of a 'resident dancer' then she will have to be the top of her game. When I see the image of the bored stripper walking around the pole in media, it makes me aware of how out-of-touch that is. These ladies work hard. Yet, it's still not enough to fully cover the costs of living in Terminal City.
Vancouver has always been traditionally built on the needs of it's denizens, who during her early days, were seekers of fortune. Our province, British Columbia, was a major player in the gold rush, and in addition to to being a destination for miners hoping to strike it rich were loggers, fishermen and the businesses that catered to them. Laundry services, rooming houses, brothels and drinking establishments were all ready to give the workers assistance and help to ease them of any extra dollars they might have had. Things were progressing well until the attitude of striking it rich occurred to white Europeans (mostly English and Scottish) and they moved in with the notion of making the city more of a civilized place and set about trying to dismantle the established establishments, scare off the assembled Chinese population, and general lay claim to territory that had traditionally belonged to the First Nation people up until that point. So the dream of entrepreneurship and finding fortune took a bit of a downturn in our early history. Still, Vancouver has proven to rise time and time again to adapting to the winds of change.
It's no secret that if you know anything about cannabis, you'll know some of the best marijuana comes from British Columbia. You might also be aware that we have a newly-elected Prime Minster who has promised to legalize weed nationwide. This would help our economy not only locally but nationally. However, it is an understatement to say that Vancouverites like their weed. We have more dispensaries now that we do Starbucks. To give you an idea of how many that is, keep in mind, we have two Starbucks kitty corner from one another (Burrard at Robson, downtown). Do you have any IDEA how much Vancouverites like Starbucks? The siren is worshiped here more than the Virgin Mary in the Vatican City, if that is any indication of what you are looking at, so when you consider that the number of dispensaries now outpaces that, it's fairly impressive. The city has begun to try to regulate these pop-up pot shops, but it's a sort of bureaucratic whack-a-mole, and with the laws in fifty shades of grey and bound in red tape, the police are more concerned with hard drugs on the street such as fentanyl and deaths occurring because of it and white collar crime than trying to strong-arm every mom and pop pot shop.
However, this industry, retail aside, is a viable one that offers some semblance of chance to make a living wage for British Columbians. I can think of a number of Kootenay towns that have survived and thrived with marijuana growth and cultivation. Most of the grow shows employ women, many single mothers who are given flexible work hours, trade off child care, and are paid a wage that allows them to support their families. Students who were once able to fruit pick in the summer and high season who have been replaced by cheap immigrant labor, which in and of itself is often little more that barely slave labor wages, have another option. No longer able to work in Okanagan orchards, students and young people can go to clip camps and earn money for study and living to help offset the cost of post secondary education and ease student loan debt in return for working the fields and farms and return with money in pocket and cash in hand. With legalization on the horizon, we are seeing a new kind of stampede west that we've not seen in over a hundred or so years. Where once we told them that there was gold in them thar hills, we aren't lying, although it's a new kind of green gold.
And to that, I say, "Go west, and seek your fortune". It's a new era. It's the Great Green Rush.